Jam Tomorrow

The Simple Matter of Delivering Predictable Outcomes in a Complex Ecosystem While Making Jam (or “Jelly” as Some May Know It)

How often are you expected to deliver systemic outcomes within a defined timescale? Afterall, these days the quality of products and services can be predictably measured in terms of the end-to-end process and the specified outcome. Experts talk about the “fives nines” gold standard; a success rate of 99.999%, equivalent to 1 error in every 1.3 million units. It’s a level of performance to which we are so accustomed we tend to take it granted in most aspects of our daily life.

In contrast, as consumers, we have developed a more heuristic sense of what good outcomes and experiences feel like.  So if we’re ordering our favourite beverage in a coffee shop and the barista says, “sure, take a seat – it should be ready in a few hours”, most of us would not go along with that timeline. It simply doesn’t feel right it should take that long to rustle up a cup of coffee. In fact, we apply this “feel right” mindset to increasingly complex scenarios, such as online delivery times; home broadband speed; education for our kids; a good holiday. You name it, the list goes on. In truth, knowing whether we have had a good experience (or not) is one of the most complex and fundamental decisions we make.

This is because the systems that determine outcomes for well-being are amongst the most complex we navigate. What’s more, we necessarily share our well-being experience with a multitude of people. Some whom we will know well and others whom we may never actually meet in person, or get the chance to know at all. Yet we influence one another’s lived experience and therefore well-being. We describe this phenomenon as a “Ring of Confidence” when it is active – or a “Latent Confidence Network” when it is dormant. Others refer to the phenomenon as “Emotional Supply Chains”.

Looking beyond the label, it is the same system machinery operating in various modes whereby a multiplicity of decisions and actions combine spontaneously to create observable outcomes. There is no doubt that developments in digital technologies (especially artificial intelligence and social networking) have amplified the concept in recent times. However, the dynamic has existed throughout the evolution of civilisation. And is, for example, clearly manifested in the ancient African “ubuntu” philosophy which promotes mutual well-being through collective endeavour and respect for nature and humanity. We are human after all, and, over time, the matrix of forces that define well-being affects us all in equal measure.

So how do we decide what “good” means for ourselves and those we care for against a wider system lens of civic well-being? It seems when it comes to our health and well-being, as with all else, we want the experience to feel personalised and timely. The challenge is how to balance the competing forces of systemic imperatives and self-agency. That is to say, what can we do in person to engage with systemic challenges without becoming over-dependent (or overwhelmed) by the very same system we are addressing?

The resulting paradox is the subject of our 3rd (and very short) fable. The paradox arises when we work within a circumscribed subsystem to achieve measurable systemic outcomes with specific “raw materials”. This fable works best as a pure and simple “thought experiment”. So imagine for a moment you are the owner of a delicatessen with a reputation for crafting delicious jams and preserves.

System Fable# 3: Jam Tomorrow

One day a stranger comes into your shop (let’s call him Mr Deming) and asks if you do “made to order” produce and also how long it takes. You know from experience that the average end-to-end process usually takes up to four hours, give or take. You tell him so and shake hands on a deal.

Mr Deming then places 3 packets of seeds on the counter. These are strawberry, eucalyptus and lemon grass, he says. I picked them from my garden just this morning. I look forward to tasting our jam tomorrow.

Exploring the Perspectives

  • How can you fulfil this apparently impossible request?
  • What do the seeds represent?
  • What does the jam represent?
  • What’s the value of your ready-made jam on the shelves?
  • How do products and services created in a subsystem relate to the wider supply chain?
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